If I were to have read the Meshech Chochma on almost any other week of my career, I would have written an article that says exactly the opposite of the lesson I will draw below. In fact, I find it hard to believe that the message that has spoken to me this week is one that even needs to be stated. But most of what I have seen and heard over the past few weeks is hard to believe. The scale of Hamas’s attack on Israel, the depravity of the terrorists, the chants on the streets of Western cities in support of these atrocities, the appalling reaction of major universities, the lynch mob in Dagestan – all of this and more feels like its from a nightmare rather than my life.
Perhaps let us look at the Meshech Chochma, R’ Meir Simcha of 19th Century Dvinsk, itself and see what we can learn. When Avraham learns of the pending destruction of the city of Sodom, he beseeches God to change their fate. The Meshech Chochma picks up on the fact that Avraham refers to the possibility of righteous people as both “within the city” and “in their midst” and explains that he is recognizing that righteousness is not usually an absolute. The morality of the good people of Sodom may not have been that impressive but perhaps it was good enough when you consider it in the context of their surroundings. Following this line of understanding, the answer God gives is that even by those standards their deeds were abhorrent.
In normal circumstances I would have seen this as a wonderful lesson on the need to have perspective. Most of the time I am desperate for there to be a little more nuance in the world. I would have argued that we should be sophisticated in our assessment of what we witness, we should not be quick to judge, we should take time to consider things before “cancelling” or writing someone off. I would have suggested to people that most things we see are more complicated than they seem and we should appreciate that very little in this world is clearly good or clearly bad.
Yet unbelievably, over the last few weeks I have been appalled by the opposite. From the very first reactions to the attacks many have struggled to simply label evil as evil. We saw an initially insipid reaction from universities, usually so quick to call out injustice, colorless statements from sports teams and other institutions and, perhaps, most difficult of all, neighbors and work colleagues using platitudes like being sorry for the “complex situation”.
I do not write this to put blinkers on people and force everyone to see one side of the story. I write it because banal statements and a general lack of recognizing what is right is leading to pressure on Israel for a ceasefire. I write it because the Torah expects us to stand strong in the face of evil. I write it most of all because I know too many people beginning to question the friends they thought they had in the deafening silence that has allowed antisemitism to rear its ugly head once again.
This is the flipside of the lesson from our parsha. Sometimes we view things differently when we put them in context but this is not one of those times. The actions of Hamas do not improve when viewed in light of the broader conflict. Israel’s need to remove Hamas and save hostages should be straightforward to anyone with basic morality. Antisemitic mobs chanting and hunting down Jews are unacceptable regardless of any other facts. None of these are part of a “complex situation” – they are unbelievably simple. Whilst the situation Israelis and Palestinians are in today has its complication, the past three weeks have not been complicated.
When we learn the Meshech Chochma again next year, let us hope that we are in a world where we are deepening our appreciation of nuance and subtlety. This year, let us pray that people wake up to some simple truths and that Israel receives the support it needs.